A Day In the Life of a ‘Dev’

Ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes in the SIS Programme Office? Amongst our team we have Project Managers, Testers, Trainers, Developers, Business Analysts and more. Today we’re looking at a day in the life of a Developer or ‘Devs’ as we call them.

These are the people who work on our new student information system to develop it to meet our customers’ needs. They also develop new apps and software to make the new system even more efficient. We caught up with Andy Larter, one of our five developers, to find out a bit more.

What skills and experience does a developer need?

Experience of working with relational databases and large volumes of data is essential.

Specifically for us, an understanding of HE processes and the student lifecycle helps when designing and developing solutions

Technical skills such as working with the SITS tool set along with an understanding of Javascript, jQuery, HTML, CSS, SQL help us to complete our day to day developments.

Non-technical skills such as communication and teamwork are also important. This becomes apparent when working to deadlines in our fortnightly development ‘sprint’

How does your role fit into the development cycle? At what stage do you get involved? When do you hand things over?

The development team contribute to the design, development and support of the Student Record System. We are also involved in testing, release deployment, project planning, prioritisation and requirement gathering.

For a typical development job we are given the requirements as part of a ‘User Story’. This is something that has been created by the product owner and will include the acceptance criteria of what the development should achieve. It is at this point we can start developing.

 

When the solution has been developed we handover the solution to the testing team for them to execute test plans. At this stage we may become involved again to answer queries or fix issues.

After testing is complete we work with the release manager to deploy the development for User Acceptance testing, and from there deployment to the live environment.

What’s a typical day like for you?

We start each day with a ‘stand-up’. This is a 15 minute meeting for developers and testers to talk about what work has been done the previous day and what we’ll be working on today. It’s also an opportunity to discuss any impediments

The main part of the day is spent developing solutions.

Regular development work is aligned to a two week ‘sprint’ which contains a list of developments we need to complete in line with the priorities of the programme. At the end of the sprint we have a completed list of developments that will form a release to the live environment. These can be bug fixes, enhancements and technical jobs such as software upgrades.

At the moment we have jobs in place to upgrade SITS to version 9.40 and for this sprint we’re doing this for the test environments.

In this sprint we also have developments to complete in the areas of Recruitment & Admissions, Academic Model, Assessment & Progression, Student Finance and Interface Management.

A developer is also assigned to be the designated support developer for a given day. This means they will take on any issues raised by the live user base. This could be, for example, applicant queries or queries from staff regarding live processes and also quires about data being interfaced in and out of the system (e.g. UCAS offers and responses)

Aside from the support channels above, a developer can also be approached with a number of day to day system related questions. An example recently would be system access for external consultants from the software vendor.

Developers are also required to attend various meetings on a daily basis. Today, for example, we’re attending a session to review the vendor supplied template for Student Enrolment. This will form the basis of requirement gathering and allow us to configure the template to make it fit to the UOH process.

Other sessions involve meeting colleagues from within the University such as ICTD and Admissions.

What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve had to deal with?

The University is a big and complex organisation so the biggest challenge is developing software to meet its requirements. This, however, is also one of the main reasons for doing the job. The challenge of creating the software makes the job interesting and provides motivation for all of us.

We also often have pressure to resolve issues in a short space of time, for example, if a solution is being tested for user acceptance we’ll have to solve the issue quickly to meet a release deadline.

The same can be applied for issues in the live environment, because these are business critical processes they need to be investigated and resolved in a timely manner.

Which part of the role gives you the most satisfaction?

Working with the talented people in our team and seeing our solutions being used by our applicants, students and staff.

 

 

 

 

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UCAS Embargo Success

In the months leading up to the 2017 A-level Results Day, we were approached by UCAS and asked to raise awareness around their zero tolerance approach to embargo breaches. The embargo was being imposed to ensure no applicants received their grades or information about their status prior to A-level Results Day.

Why did they do this?

In 2016 a number of universities confirmed student places a day early, breaching the A-level results embargo imposed by UCAS. Sharing such information ahead of the official release time is strictly forbidden.

One university had released grade information directly to students, triggering a UCAS investigation into the university’s automated systems, which were blamed for the error. Place confirmations from other universities, which weren’t named, went to students with a conditional grade offer, meaning the students could make assumptions about their achieved grades.

It wasn’t the first time this has happened. Back in 2014 the Guardian reported that Nottingham Trent had accidentally emailed a number of students saying ‘sorry you didn’t get your predicted grades’.

When such breaches occur, the universities are duty bound to inform UCAS immediately and swift action is taken to correct the errors.

After the 2016 breaches a Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) spokesperson said exam boards take security of results “extremely seriously” and they were “concerned” to learn of the breach. JCQ, which represents all of the exam boards then had talks with UCAS to gather all of the details of the error and understand how this could be avoided in the future.

We’d never had a breach but wanted to ensure our sheet remained clean.

How did we ensure there would be no breaches?

We invited all staff involved in the process to attend a presentation by UCAS, followed by a compulsory online module for them to work through (and pass!). Colleagues outside of our Admissions team then had their access revoked, so that they were not able to view or make decisions on clearing enquiries during the embargo period. Once lifted, wider colleague access was restored to deal with applications again.

So, how did this affect our systems and processes for Results Day and Clearing in 2017?

It was more of a challenge for us this year because we were in transition to the new systems as part of our SIS programme, rolling out SITS and SID, so we had to refresh our approach to the embargo. Although we’d not had a breach before, this year there was a heightened awareness around threat of sanctions in a year where we were possibly at greatest risk.

John Hemingway, Director of ICTD, was asked to take oversight of the approach for the first time this year and the earlier embargo period in early August for SQA results release was also used a rehearsal for the A-level period. So for the A-level results embargo period from Friday 11th August at 12 noon until Thursday 17th August at 7am, we froze our applicant portal (MyHull) to ensure no automated emails went to students based on our early sight of A-level results. For example, had a student achieved the required grades, an email offer of accommodation could, possibly, have been triggered.

The downside of freezing the system for this period of time meant that applicants couldn’t access it to see any status updates or upload documents. We’d already made them aware of this and had a message on our portal throughout the embargo period. We told applicants that the system would reopen at 7am on 17th August, and that they might receive multiple emails from us that had been queued during the embargo period. We also let them know that they could send us documents to support their offer conditions via email if they needed to.

Simon Pownall, Service Manager for the SIS Programme commented, “The new implementation of the Student information system together with the hardening of the UCAS embargo, led to increased pressures on the implementation team and admissions colleagues. Despite the pain involved in excluding staff and applicants from the system during this period we provided a credible process and ensured that we did not put the University at risk. I’m very pleased that the time and effort invested in ensuring the embargo was embedded in the processes and communicated across the University paid dividends.” 

 

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A great way to end the week!

If Carlsberg made end of the week reports…No live incidents, no live service requests and no live fixes! We’re going home very happy this weekend.

 

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SID Student Case Management goes live

Back in June, we told you about our SID Student Enquiry software going live. Now we’re back to tell you about a new component – Case Management  – which we’ve made live in time for our new students arriving, and which will add value to their help desk experience.

But first, a quick recap in case the concept of a Student Information Desk is new to you:

Enquiry Management – what we’ve done so far

The SID system provides a 24/7×365 online support environment that facilitates the effective management of pre-applicant, applicant and student enquiries.

Students requiring support from the University can access the system via the MyHull portal using their student login credentials. Once in the system, SID provides the option for students to browse an FAQ knowledge base to self-serve and find a solution to their problem. If the student can’t find an answer in the FAQs they have the option to ‘Log an Enquiry’ requesting assistance with their issue. The SID system will then allocate the enquiry to the relevant university team or department based on the category selected by the student.

The departments currently using the enquiry management system are:

  • Central Hub
  • Accommodation Office
  • Careers Office
  • SWLWS (Student Wellbeing, Learning and Welfare Services)

Coming soon: We’re aiming to have the SID system transitioned into these additional departments in the coming months:

  • Registry Services
  • Student Hubs

At the moment only current staff and students are able to login to the system but it does provide support for applicants and general enquirers via email harvesting. The e-mail harvesting function allows pre-applicants / applicants to email into a service such as askhu@hull.ac.uk.  SID then harvests the enquirer’s email from the inbox into the SID system and logs an enquiry for them. It lets the enquirer know their email has been logged as an enquiry in SID and that to update their enquiry, they just have to reply to the email from SID.  The response is then harvested into the system and updated on the original enquiry.

Staff can answer all enquiries via SID, removing the dependency on email (which is not easy to manage, maintain or report on) for student support.

The long-term goal of the system is to provide a central one-stop-shop where enquirers can log a question, issue or query on the system which then allocates it to the relevant department. This takes the onus off the student having to know which department or service to contact.

The system records and tracks all the enquiry correspondence between the allocated department / staff member and the enquirer, providing a full conversation history. The enquirer is given a unique reference number for their enquiry, enabling them to track their progress at any stage via the SID student portal.

 So – what’s new?

Case Management:  From last week the University’s Student Wellbeing, Learning and Welfare Services (SWLWS) department have been able to use the latest live component of  SID – namely Case Management.

The benefits include allowing the team to manage student casework much more effectively, providing integrated and efficient information sharing within and between teams and services.

The Case Management functionality gives SWLWS the opportunity to record confidential case notes in the SID system too. The component is strictly access-controlled so that only the SWLWS team can access the case.

The current SWLWS teams using the Case Management system are:

  • Health and Wellbeing
  • Inclusivity
  • Financial Support
  • Engagement and Transition
  • ResLife
  • Student Engagement
  • Learning Support

The intention, come the main registration activity later in September, is for the SWLWS department to be familiar with and efficient in utilising the Case Management functionality in SID to record all new student Case Notes. Existing cases for returning students will be migrated into the SID system on a continuing ad-hoc basis.

As a bonus, it will also mean moving on to paperless case recording.

 

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Clearing success for SITS system

The University Admissions service (UCAS) runs Clearing to offer prospective students the chance to apply for university courses that still have places available. It’s for those who’ve not received any offers, have rejected all their offers, or have missed the conditions of their offers.

In an increasingly competitive recruitment drive on A Level results day, universities across the country were geared up to fill places on their courses via Clearing.

According to The Guardian (Thursday 18 August 2016 17.09 BST) there were 41,000 courses with vacancies listed on the UCAS clearing website on Thursday afternoon – up from 37,000 at the same time last year.”

“By midnight on A-level results day, 11,180 students had secured university places through clearing, which is more than double the number five years ago, according to UCAS.” Source: Daily Telegraph: 18 August 2017 • 2:38PM

As we mentioned a couple of weeks ago here at the University of Hull, Clearing is a key event in our academic calendar. It’s also been something that our SIS programme team has been working towards all year – developing and implementing the SITS system in time for Clearing was a major milestone.

Director of ICT, John Hemingway commented: “We’ve invested over £30 million in a programme of change to transform our ICT services. Clearing this year brought together a new web presence (which dealt with an 85% increase in users visiting the site compared with A Level results day last year), a new student information system (SITS) and a new telephony system – what could possibly go wrong?!

Thankfully all the elements came together, through a structured programme of work for the SIS team involving developing and testing the system and then training staff across the University how to use it, culminating in a series of dress rehearsals. All the staff involved played their part and made this year’s Clearing a very special event.”

At times it’s been a bit like doing a heart transplant. We’ve had to open up the University’s rib cage and piece by piece replace vital organs whilst keeping the body alive, with everything still connected and functioning.

Dress Rehearsal

As part of our preparation for a successful Clearing Day we held three dress rehearsals to test the SITS system.

Director of Student Recruitment, Deborah Green, observed these: “There were some challenging issues but the SIS team worked very hard to resolve them, discovering  them in good time rather than having to cope with them in the full ‘rush’ on the big day. The call centre agents found the practice extremely helpful and as a result we all went into A Level Results Day with a far greater degree of confidence.  Many of those who’d worked on Clearing before found the systems far easier to use and much improved on previous years, which is a lovely accolade to the SIS team.”

So, how did it go on the day?

We caught up with Business Systems Analyst, Alison Hudson, who had volunteered to be one of our call centre agents. She shared her experience of working with the new system on Clearing Day:

“Having experienced Clearing several times here over the years, I found the new SITS system much more simple and straight forward to use for logging clearing enquiries:

  • it allowed us to easily find applicant details using their UCAS ID
  • in the case of applicants new to the UCAS cycle, we could log their details quickly e.g. through features such as postcode look up, and also the enquiry form hiding fields based on responses to other questions
  • adding their course choices was simple too as all courses were searchable.

“The call centre was well supported on the day by the SIS team. Staff were on hand to help and resolve any problems due to operator error and helped to rectify them quickly, and through active monitoring of enquiries logged, helped identify any problems with users incorrectly logging data. There were no system issues with SITS on the day, availability and responsiveness of the software was perfect.”

University Registrar and Secretary, Jeannette Strachan, was quick to thank the teams for all the fantastic work that they had done for Confirmation and Clearing. “I have heard lots of positive feedback both about the system but also about the support that the teams have provided. Everyone has felt very well supported. I know that that hasn’t been achieved without a huge amount of work, patience and good will. I went around all the locations with the new VC Susan Lea and she wanted me to pass on her thanks too.”

 

SIS Programme Manager, Barry Storey, and SIS Service Manager, Simon Pownall, reflected “We know it’s not been easy but we have delivered a credible solution that is stable and reliable. The gratitude from Jeanette is also a tribute to how we work together as a team, as much as it is about what we have achieved together.  We feel enormously proud of everyone in the team.”

But the work’s not over yet – we’ve another year on the implementation team to get everything up and running in SITS. And of course we’ll be gathering feedback from more staff who used SITS for Clearing, to see how we can improve the system for next year.

 

 

 

 

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Clearing: we train over 200 staff on the new SITS sytem

Clearing is important to the university and we’re proud that we’ve always had really good feedback about how we treat enquirers and applicants in Clearing. Of course it’s a competitive day across the country for most universities, as we all seek to attract further students. Last year at Hull we were extremely successful, recruiting 730 students during the clearing period.

“Can you spell that for me, please” Call centre dress rehearsal for Clearing

Agents in action: call centre dress rehearsal for Clearing

We’re using the first floor of our library as our Clearing Call Centre

So one of the biggest milestones on our SIS Programme timeline this year has been to get the new SITS system ready for Clearing, and to get the staff who’ll be working on Clearing from 17th August (A Level results day) trained on using it to deal with calls.

Call centre dress rehearsal for Clearing

With over 100 staff working in our call centre on the day, and a range of academic tutors ready to talk to applicants when they’re put through, our training manager, Emma has been extremely busy over the last few weeks.

Alongside colleagues Sheila Dowling and Kathy Olivant from the Admissions team she’s co-delivered an overview of what the new SITS system looks like for Clearing, shown how to log enquiries and run through a range of scenarios using Caller/Call Centre role play. She’s also provided training materials and created the opportunity for all involved to access the new system in our ‘training environment’ to familiarise themselves with it before the big day.

So far we’ve trained 161 staff for Clearing (75 Academic Staff and 86 Call Centre Staff) and have more sessions lined up for 57 (38 Academic Staff and 19 Call Centre).

If you, or someone you know, wants to apply to the University of Hull via Clearing, here’s the website, or you can call on 01482 466 100 and our team will be happy to help anyone enquiring either before or after A Level results day.

 

 

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SID update: Latest version of our student enquiry software goes live

Great news! We hit another project milestone this week with the roll out of the latest version of SID on 26th June.   Five days in and you can see from this screenshot that 410 student enquiries have been resolved so far.

 

A couple of months ago we gave you an update on the Student Information Desk (SID) and promised to come back with more information about upgrading to the latest version.  We recently sat down with Project Manager, Dan Saville, to find out the latest news, just before the latest phase went live on 26th June.

staff enquiry logging for student view

“We’ve just finished five days of User Acceptance Testing (UAT)”, he told us “and we’re on target to go live with this latest version on June 26th .  This new version is more intuitive, and easier for everyone to use as you’ll be able to see everything on one screen.   Once it goes live, all applicants and current students will be able to use it.”

 

staff enquiries view

“Staff who’ll be using it have helped the SIS team with their testing and end users are being trained this week.”  We spoke to some of our colleagues in Student Services who were involved with this to find out how they found their experience of testing

‘we have found the UAT to be a good way to consolidate our learning, as the system is so new it has allowed us to become more familiar with its layout and functions. We have incorporated the user stories from the UAT as part of our own training on the system’

staff team summary grid

The system will be rolled out to any team or department that supports student enquiries. Initially it’ll be used by

  • AskHU
  • Accommodation
  • Careers

And the functionality we’re going live with at this stage is

  • enquiry management
  • email harvesting
  • the student-facing view (covering applicant and existing student enquiries)

FAQ view

We’re anticipating that the most use will be during registration where it’ll be supporting registering students with their enquiries.

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Roadshow update on SID and SITS

Given that last week we were doing User Acceptance Testing on SID, and this week we’re training end users, we decided to invite our colleagues from the Student Services Directorate to another of our roadshows.

It was a chance for us to update them on where we are with SID (Student Information Desk) and SITS (the software we’re using for course and student management). Colin Colborn from the SIS team led the proceedings with some slides, a Who Wants to be a Millionaire-style quiz, and a Question & Answer session.

Staff at Hull can access the slides here and the Q&A here.

Watch this space for a quick catch up with the SID Project Manager Dan Saville.

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Testing, Testing… and CAS goes live

If we’ve seemed a little quiet recently, it’s because we’ve been very busy behind the scenes developing, preparing and testing software critical to support priority business functions planned for this summer.

On the SIS programme, we ensure that any software we develop and implement for staff or students across the university is “fit for purpose”. To ensure this, we systematically gather requirements from various departments across the university, convert them into “User Stories” which then get developed in Agile Sprints (SIS Development Approach) and tested before deployment into live.

CAS functionality goes live

The good news this week is that CAS (Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies) went live on Monday evening (5th June) so we can now produce a CAS from the SITS live environment.

A CAS is needed to support Tier 4 student visas required by some international students to live and study in the UK. More information can be found on the government’s website.

What is UAT and why do we do it?

User Acceptance Testing (UAT) – is the final test phase in our assurance approach where software is tested with ‘live like data’ by the business users who will be using it to carry out their work on a day to day basis in live. They’re the ones who know exactly what it needs to do and can confirm that it meets the needs of the business and hence is “fit for purpose”.

For the last couple of weeks we’ve been focusing on the SITS CAS module where we’ve concluded User Acceptance Testing (UAT) carried out by a selection of end users from Admissions, Visa Compliance and Finance teams spread over six days. The activities were co-ordinated by the testing team with support from the Product Owner and Developers.

How does UAT work?

So, for example, for Admissions we would develop business scenarios where an applicant who has applied for a single course and requires a Tier 4 Visa is then able to complete the questionnaire for the CAS which is subsequently sent to the applicant and to UKVI (UK Visas and Immigration).

For this we create dummy applicants (you know the ones called Micky Mouse or Lady Gaga) and test their experience of using the system to make sure it can handle the required tasks in ‘real world’ scenarios. Only when all business critical functions work as expected does the system (or upgrade) go live.

Training

Given the challenges we faced in testing and delivering the solution to schedule, we delivered training in parallel to the User Acceptance Training so that users were able to familiarise themselves with the system ahead of it going live.

As CAS generation is expected to ramp up during June, we’ve offered users the support of the development and testing teams and space in our office, to make sure we are nearby should they need us.

Next up, we’re testing for Clearing, and will bring you an update soon

 

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The Student Information Desk (SID)

We thought we’d give you an update about where we are with SID. Some of you may know that we went live with a small element of it in May last year, and might even have tried your hand using it. However it wasn’t rolled out across all users and all enquiry management – and for it to be effective we needed that to happen.

enquiry1

For Phase 2, we’re using a new, much better and more intuitive version of the application and ensuring it’s configured to meet departmental implementation requirements.

Those who’ll be affected include

  • Student Services (Ask HU, Careers, Accommodation, Wellbeing and Registry)
  • Student Financial Services
  • Faculties and academic departments
  • Library
  • ICTD / Sports Centre
  • Anyone else who is involved in receiving and resolving a student enquiry

If the concept of a Student Information Desk is new to you – here’s a quick recap: It’s an online ‘enquiry management’ system that basically lets us manage enquiries from applicants and existing students via email and web form submissions along with the traditional problems or enquiries raised face-to-face at a help desk. The system records and track queries and any related correspondence, providing the student with a reference number so that they can track progress via the SID student portal. It will also capture case and diary / appointment management. So students will be able to raise questions, report a problem or ask for help and staff will be able to provide an answer or pass on to colleagues in other teams or departments who will then respond and provide the answer via a single end-to-end solution across any student support service across the University.

The identity of the student is recorded and becomes part of the on-going record of information stored about that student.

So What Happens Next?

Over the next few months we’re aiming to upgrade to the latest version with a student-facing view, kick-starting the enquiry management again with Ask HU, Careers, and Accommodation. Then the Student Financial Services and Registry implementation of enquiry management – and for all of these we’ll be able to use what we call ‘email harvesting’ to help us track the enquiries and enquirers. One of the new benefits arising from this is that because email harvesting is a way of linking SID with existing email accounts which are used to receive student enquiries, these enquiries are automatically entered into SID and the user won’t have to consistently check multiple email accounts.

Next we’re intending to provide case and diary/appointment management to support Wellbeing and have things in place for dealing with enquiries over the student registration period.

As the next Admissions cycle begins we’re aiming to be able to process most of the application enquiries in October, moving through to an estimated end to this workflow by Spring 2018 with the Library and ICTD coming online.

We’ll be contacting relevant teams with dates and further information as soon as we can and will also provide progress updates via this blog.

 

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